Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Having Your Adolescent Mind Blown...

It was the summer of 1989 that I don't remember much of. A few small details - I'm 13, grossly under developed, stuck somewhere between wanting to be a teenager but still really I'm just a kid. I had all these feelings of someone older, but the depressing realization that I was stuck with this body for a little while longer.

But like the piano exploding at the end of the video, my mind, or should I say my very idea of what rock n' roll could or should be, is shattered into a million pieces. I had just heard Faith No More's "Epic" and I was hooked. It was rap, but it was metal too. It was SO different than the Aerosmith/Run DMC fusion of styles. I couldn't really understand it, but I knew I loved it.

I ended up watching MTV all summer, just to get a listen to that song (plus to figure out which member of En Vogue I thought was hotter). I don't even remember how I managed to scrape together $16 for the CD, since I already had a job - watching MTV and psychically beaming my need for that song to some how lodge itself into the hearts of a nation so I could see more of this strange sound that was twisting my sensibilities.

Today, "Epic" is probably thought of as a one hit wonder song for FNM, but those of us who continued to listen knnow that ir really peaked with the "Angel Dust" album. They still managed to put out a few good albums, but no song has ever grabbed a hold of me like that.

Originally published on Mog

Eep Ock Ork Uh Huh - A pop cultural refference I didn't miss, but couldn't talk about

We used to drive around Downingtown bumping Bizarre Ride II. When I say bumping, I don't mean it by any "it's what the kids are saying" way. We were literally bumping around in one of our shitty cars, me with my hot Rockford Fosgate base box jury rigged into the fuse box of my Chevy Nova, connected on the other end to some shitty tape deck.

I had been introduced to this album by a graffiti kid in my school, and just the fact that it was different than the eras "gangsta's and ho's" mentality made it seem that much more refreshing. Plus. I'm a suburban white boy who wasn't about to represent for the city of Compton.

We loved this album. It was great. It didn't have any of the posturing that, well, just about every hip hop song of the era had. It was self deprecating, funny, and lewd. I mean how many rappers could top Fat Lips confession of picking up a transvestite by mistake (see "Oh Shit!").

Anyway, I felt great unease when we would listen to the song "Soul Flower" being that it had a derivation of a song sung by Judy Jetson's favorite rock star JJ Jetscreamer "Eep Ock Ork Uh Huh (that means I love you)". It puzzled me so (though in hind sight, I guess I should have felt liberated that others remembered this infectious diddy). In those days, I didn't quite understand the significance of reference to hip hop, I just knew I knew what song they were "copying", and it disturbed me slightly. I was 17 and much to reserved to admit my knowledge of a Jetson's episode.

So we continued bumping around the country side listening to the tape over and over, getting stoned and making runs on convenience stores - never imagining that some day I could sit at a computer and relay this moment of discord to others like myself.

Originally posted on Mog 4/11/2007

Suicide - Early Innovators

Originally released on Bronze Records in 1978
re-released in 2000 on mute records w/ eponymous L.P.

I originally published this on Julian Cope's Head Heritage site

A record of proof of an innovative band’s struggle with an unreceptive audience.

“23 Minutes over Brussels” was recorded in Brussels, Belgium on June 16th, 1978. Friend of the band, Howard Thompson recorded it on cassette tape and it was later released on as a flexi-disc insert for a music magazine. Fortunately the good people at Mute records re-released Suicides catalog in 2000. They have been digitally re-mastered so you wont have to scrounge the record bins to try to find these rare treasures. Both the album and the extra disc sound great (even 23 minutes sounds pretty good considering how it was recorded). It stands as a legendary performance, fortunate enough to be recorded. This is not your happy go lucky good time Rock n’ Roll concert, this is the dangerous riot inciting kind.

Perhaps if they weren't so far ahead of their time, the Suicide bootleg "23 minutes over Brussels" could have been the "Royal Albert Hall" bootleg for a new generation. Alan Vega and Martin Rev's second show in Europe ended in a primal scream of "Fuck you! It's about Frankie!" stands comparison to Bob Dylan's angry start of "Like a Rolling Stone" where he can be heard saying "Play fucking loud!" to the Hawks - as possible one of the greatest spontaneous Rock n' Roll moments of all time. In “23 minutes” Alan Vega is heard shouting, “Shut the fuck up, this is about Frankie!” Whistles cheers and boo's swell, the audience renders the sonic assault of Rev and Vega silent by stealing the microphone.

“23 minutes” goes a step further than the myth and lore of the infamous Dylan recording. Dylan’s heresy stood with his decision to “plug in.” This at the time was considered a step toward all that was marketable, because rock n’ roll was electric and was sold to the masses by evil corporations. Folk purists seemed to think of Dylan as a sellout for making what appeared as mainstream credibility. Suicide on the other hand, had no credibility. Rather than “plugging in” or “unplugging” they pared down to bare bones rock aggression.

Alan Vega, a New York City trash artist, formed Suicide with avant-garde jazz keyboardist Martin Rev in 1971. Vega’s idea was to strike Rock n’ Roll down to the bare minimum. Through the use of thrift store electric keyboards and a drum machine, Suicide set out to recreate rock n’ roll from the ground up. Dylan like Rev and Vega had a desire to find his own sound, only Suicide didn’t have a fan base that would come along for the ride.

The mid 70's New York scene was dictated by a common knee jerk reaction to the over indulgence and excess that music had become. Suicide stood on a different plane of aural deconstruction. Vega and Rev's interpretation of "basic" rock n' roll was to minimalize it to the nth degree. Although they started as a somewhat large free jazz ensemble, they soon were reduced to just a guitar, keyboard, and drum machine. A short time after that, they lost the guitar all together. Suicide in its Keyboard, Drum Machine, Vocal line up stands as the epitome of the defiance that Rock n' Roll was built on. Unfortunately, for most artists, the audience usually comes around to their way of thinking, a little too late.

Suicide stands as one of the most aptly named bands ever in rock n' roll. The bands name is described as a "great rock n' roll action word" by Rev in the liner notes of Mute records 2000 release of the self-titled debut album. “23 minutes” inevitably became their scarlet letter as far as performance was concerned. They rarely played live, and usually did to disastrous results. The short set of music showcased in "23 minutes" clearly demonstrates two individuals flying in the face of convention, screaming their guts out to be heard, and failing to make a poignant imprint on the listening audience.

Perhaps it was the back to basics mentality of the "Punk" world that was wrong. Suicide as a group, predate the earliest of the CBGB's scene by at least 3 years. With so much retro revisionism in contemporary music, one is hard pressed to find anything from that period that sounds as though it would be made in today's musical climate. Suicide does though. Most likely you would find them on a package tour with the likes of Stereo Lab or Mouse on Mars, and some how wouldn't sound quite as profound.

Legends and Myths can abound in Rock n' Roll. Many a writer is swept up in the nostalgia aspect of these mythologies and rumors. As we have become inundated with Rock n’ Roll tragedies we are left to ponder why Suicide didn’t become superstars? Possibly it's the fact that their music fell on many deaf ears, their performances and reputations preceded them. What in the 20+ years since the group's demise has sounded (or looked) as raw and heartfelt as that "Suicide Sound."

Suicide was the marriage of performance art with the attitude and pomp of rock n' roll. Only now, with hindsight, can one look at the postmodern implications of the performing side of Suicide. The records stand are the Rock n’ roll side of the band – a good reproduction of what Suicide sounded like live, with a few studio embellishments. The performance was the art. Like most performance art, their shows were temporal, intense and of the moment.

When Suicide unplugged from the popular conventions of Rock they were looked at as hooligans. No one wanted to book them, and audiences usually stayed about 10 feet from the stage, where a chain wielding Vega would swing wildly. One can look at the failure of the New York scene, or any scene for that matter, to accept Suicide as a legitimate act. We have only photographs to offer us a fraction of the story. Find a copy of this recording, sit back, open your ears, and grab a hold of the mental picture.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Pugilists in Song - The Felice Brothers "Ballad of Lou the Welterweight" vs. Simon and Garfunkels "The Boxer"

Film loves boxing - it's all tight close ups of extreme action. Blood and teeth, slow motion expressions of pain. Bodies in exquisite form inflicting pain upon one another in the confines of the square ring. This does wonders for the lack of set and costumes needed. Two half naked men swinging on each other in the most primal of manors. Even if your not a boxing fan, it seems to always appeal to our most basic sensibilities of the survival of the fittest. Boxing is so glorified because it exists as a sport and a metaphor of ones existence in society.

So what happens when songs, which seem to exist as the melodic metaphors for our existence, deal with the very same symbolically rich sport as film? Well we get an even more textured look into the struggle. The sweet science offers as much to the poetry of lyrics as it does in the poetry of brutality each opponent inflicts on the other withing the confines of the ring. The confines of the melody we get to look at the big picture boxer, more than the "the reminders of every glove that laid him down or cut him til he cried out..." that film likes to focus on.

Simon and Garfunkel offer up what is an admirable and noble sounding character in their song "The Boxer". He is ambitious, but wary of his years. His ambition is still drives him. Simon and Garfunkels offer a modest peek into the character of the boxer:

"Asking only work mans wages, I come looking for a job, but I get no offers
Just a come on from the whores on 7th avenue
I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome
I took some comfort there"

The Felice Brothers boxer, Lou, on the other hand could very well be Scorsese's Jake LaMotta. But he's doomed, whether he knows it or not. He's a boxer in his last moments, perhaps the same type of punch drunk brute, who would pry the jewels out of his championship belt to make bail. There is no denial of what boxing has made of him. He has a woman, who loves him despite the brutality of his profession. She is an angel to him in his last moments, that he's happy to get his gloves on.

"Powder your nose
take off your panty hose
let me love you from behind, my darling
Powder your nose, pull on your panty hose
We're going down to my bout, my darling"

His narrative may lack an the eloquence of proper romance, but it is the prose of a man in the moment before he steps into the ring for the fight of his life. Lou's love for his par amoré, may be good for one round, but like a true fighter, he's got his eyes on the prize. Lou's fate is sealed by the bookies though, who set him up a supposed ringer - Joey who "was a no one. Just some big dumb kid from Flushing." His fate is sealed, Lou is hit low and it's thebeginning of the end for our hero.

Paul Simon's narrative is a broader portrait of a boxer, on who knows his time in the ring is waning, he has been pummeled and beaten, and dreams leaving, but he will always be a fighter, no matter what.

Simon's boxer exists almost as an early version of Brando's Terry Malloy in ??On The Waterfront?? (without the former prizefighter status). A character who is conflicted, but noble at in his heart.

It could be argued that Boxing was America's first national sport. It's first huge stars were immigrants and minorities that bested the competition. The sports start stood as pinnacles and examples to their race of what was possible in this country. That with a little determination and some gravel in your gut, you could transcend your lot in this life. Regardless of what a persons moral character consists of, in certain positions, people will always hang a certain amount of symbolic responsibility given to a person. Boxing may be the sport in which more hopes, dreams, expectations, and disappointments are saddled by an individual, than any other. But like Paul Simon says "No it isn't strange, after changes upon changes, we are more or less the same." Belt or no belt, there is a certain understanding of both boxers as to their own character, both as individuals and as fighters.

[Close up shot pulls back from the respective boxers in their final moments. In silence a slow fade to black as the credits scroll.]

The Lyrics:

The Boxer (©1968 by Paul Simon for the album ??Bridge Over Troubled Waters??. Lyric source with revisions by the author)

I am just a poor boy and my story's seldom told
Ive squandered my resistance for a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises
All lies and jest, still the man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest, hmmmm

When I left my home and my family, I was no more than a boy
In the company of strangers
In the quiet of the railway station, runnin scared
Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters, where the ragged people go
Looking for the places only they would know

Lie la lie...

Asking only work mans wages, I come looking for a job, but I get no offers
Just a come on from the whores on 7th avenue
I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome
I took some comfort there

Now the years are rolling by me, they are rocking even me
I am older than I once was, and younger than Ill be, that's not unusual
No it isn't strange, after changes upon changes, we are more or less the same
After changes we are more or less the same

Li la lie...

And I'm laying out my winter clothes, wishing I was gone, going home
Where the New York city winters aren't bleeding me, leading me to go home

In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down or cut him
til he cried out in his anger and his shame
I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains
Yes he still remains

Li la lie...

The Ballad of Lou The Welterweight (by The Felice Brothers Lyrics transcribed by the author, to the best of his abilities, author unknown at the time of this post.)

Powder your nose, take off your pantyhose
Let me love you from behind, my darling
powder your nose, pull on your pantyhose
Were going down to my bout, my darling

Before the bell would ring
he had a way like Errol Flynn
As he sauntered to the ring
with a sheet on

But the [laygrounds] scared the girl
Heaven knows she thought the world of Lou
It was hard to see him sway in the neon

Joey was a no one
Just some big dumb kid from flushing
he had a face like an ugly bull
always pouting

He hit Louie kind of low
And he fumbled on the ropes
As the bookies blocked the rows, shouting

Powder Your Nose..

The blows were hard and loud
He could hardly hear the crowd
In the bleachers where they howled
they were cheering

I remember in the eighth, it was clear that Lou was fading
And something caught his eye by the ceiling
He saw her as she spoke in the shifty yellow smoke
She said, "Louie you look bad, like your dying"
But Louie could not answer, his eyes cast up towards the rafters
And then they slowly sealed in the silence

Powder your nose...

This article originally published on Mog